With a deadpan expression on his face, Patrick deWitt reads from his novel Undermajordomo Minor. He picked out a small part that almost functions as a short story, a part about a man getting a promotion and his wife’s miserly cheese proportions. He talks about these somewhat strange things as if they are the most mundane, almost boring subjects in the world. But the things DeWitt writes are far from boring and often not even close to mundane.
We’re at BorderKitchen where journalist Maarten Dessing interviews author Patrick deWitt and the tone for the evening is set when Dessing tries to delve into the meaning of the novel and the strangeness that happens in it. ‘I’m not very self-aware.’ deWitt says simply. He finds it hard to describe his own stories to others actually, but isn’t bothered by it. He just finds it strange.
Dessing can’t let it go however and keeps digging for meaning anyway. He asks if the book is an allegory and to answer this, deWitt carefully crosses his legs and inhales deeply. ‘I don’t know.’ He says, which is met by some laughter from the audience. He explains that it rarely happens that people tell him their reading of his novels and when it does happen, he’s rarely happy with it. When Dessing points out that he must have thought about the beginning and the end of the novel and how it bookends the story, deWitt confesses that he hadn’t actually thought about it like that at all. He just works on instinct, not on intellect. He doesn’t overthink things when it comes to his books.
‘But surely The Large Hole from the novel must mean something’, Dessing tries again. When deWitt smiles and just answers with a short ‘no’ the room laughs louder this time. ‘My work sometimes frustrates people.’ He says by way of apology and Dessing seems to let go of his search for meaning for the evening.
deWitt talked a lot about how he writes, explaining that he writes to make himself laugh. He tries to write like a reader, looking to be surprised instead of trying to work in a deeper meaning into the story. A great example of this is that he took great pleasure in writing the simple line ‘The Large Hole is very, very large.’ He’d been looking forward to writing this for a while and when he finally got to put it in his book, it felt really good.
With writing on instinct, there are also some misses. He tells us he has 3 or 4 unfinished novels lying around that he probably won’t do anything with, because he feels animosity to anything of his that has failed. This happened with a novel about a banker he was writing before he came up with Undermajordomo Minor. He was bored with what he was writing and while reading fables with his son, he’d much rather explore that kind of world than the boring life of bankers and jumped ship.
Although Patrick deWitt can come across a little unfazed by everything and everyone, he did tell us about how his life was in shambles while writing his latest novel. He had just come out of a 14-year relationship, which definitely changed the love story that can be found in the book. He hit some walls while writing Undermajordomo Minor and although he feels confident about the book now, he didn’t want to let the fans of The Sisters Brothers down.
Rounding off the interview, Dessing asks why deWitt put a list of influences at the back of his novel. ‘Readers often tell you who your influences are and they are almost always wrong.’ He says. For these people he made a list of who his influences actually are, but he finds that they mostly ignore it anyway. He also included the list for people who – like him – had trouble finding ‘his’ authors. It took him years to find books and authors he could relate to and be inspired by, so if anyone likes his book and is looking for anything similar, all they need to do is look at the back and head to the library. His final words are in line with the rest of the evening, when he summarizes it as follows: it doesn’t mean anything.’
A special thanks to BorderKitchen for organizing another great evening!